I just returned from my visit to Sandia National Laboratories, where I saw some amazing new energy technologies. Much of the activity at this National Lab is classified research and development, the so-called “black world”, that cannot be seen by visitors. However, the unclassified research is truly impressive and provides a hint of the amazing developments that must be going on behind closed doors.
The most impressive facility I visited was the MESA Center. MESA stands for “Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications”. According to Sandia, this center is a “computationally-intensive environment for the design, integration, prototype fabrication, and qualification of integrated microsystems into weapon components, subsystems, and systems for the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile”. In other words, MESA engineers apply CMOS processes pioneered by the electronics industry to making sensors and components that enhance the functionality of nuclear weapons. One aspect of this work is energy scavenging to provide power to these microsystems; see my post, The Walls are Crawling with Energy, for more details.
One of MESA’s core competencies is micro-fabricating extremely small rotating gears and machines. One device of interest to energy buffs is the world’s smallest steam engine. Try running your Lionel on this micro-engine! To demonstrate the size, reliability, and robustness of their micro-machines, Sandia also created a number of movies that show dust mites, aphids, and other bugs crawling around on working micro-gears. These movies cast the classic flea circus in a whole new context. In addition to the world’s smallest steam engine, Sandia claims to possess the world’s smallest merry go-round.